The performance, which is being produced by the high school's award-winning theater program, will include a cast of over 80 students ranging from 6 to 19 years of age.
According to professional school-play director Paula Ohaus, more than 110 high school students auditioned for the musical but only 60 were chosen, with the additional 20 children coming from the school's elementary and middle schools.
The elementary students had previously taken part in the "Hoboken Idol" competition earlier this year, which Ohaus said was a quasi-audition for the musical.
Having co-founded the school's theater program in 1997, Ohaus will be celebrating her 10th year directing productions at Hoboken High School (HHS) this spring - a track record that began a decade ago with the very same musical.
"It's kept me young. I love working with young people," said Ohaus, who stressed the important role theater plays in building character and responsibility at an early age. "[Theater] helps children develop a sense of community and at the same time builds discipline and confidence, providing them with the ability to speak and perform with ease in front of large groups of people."
The musical will be held at the HHS Theater at Ninth and Clinton streets on Friday April 20 at 7:30 p.m., Saturday April 21 at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., and Sunday April 22 at 2 p.m.
The musical and its cast
"The Wiz," which is a hip African-American adaptation of L. Frank Baum's classic "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz," debuted on Broadway in 1975 at the Majestic Theatre, where it won seven Tony Awards over a four-year period.
In 1978, the musical was made into a film starring Diana Ross, Michael Jackson, and Richard Pryor. According to Ohaus, the school's rendition will mostly remain faithful to the original musical, particularly with regard to the score, which she said was one of the main reasons the show was chosen.
Although there will be many new faces due to the sheer size of the cast, several of Hoboken High's veteran stage performers return for one last performance before moving on to college next year.
One of those students is 17-year-old Christian Castro, who, having taken part in seven prior performances at Hoboken High School, now finds himself playing the character of the wizard.
"He's a con man who is playing off the power and air of mystery, but at the same time he's in pain and has these inner demons," said Castro. "[The wiz's] ability to hide them and put up a mask was, for me, the hardest part in playing him."
Castro, who plans to pursue a career in acting, has been accepted at Montclair State University in the fall, where he plans to pursue a bachelor's degree in Fine Arts.
Another veteran actor who will be sharing the stage with Castro for the last time is 18-year-old Javier Nieves, who, having taken part in eight performances at HHS, will play the lion.
Looking back on his four years working with Ohaus, Nieves had a great sense of accomplishment. "[The theater program] has given me a work ethic that has helped me in other areas," said Nieves. "I'm more disciplined because of it, and at the same time it makes me more comfortable speaking in front of large crowds."
One of Nieves' colleagues, Saquan Williams, who will be playing the scarecrow, agreed. "[Acting] is something I want to do, but I can't [do that] if I don't do well in other areas. It encourages you to work hard in school so that you can take part in the things that matter most to you."
At the age of 14, Williams has already taken part in six performances.
Seventeen-year-old Kristina Merced, who has participated in nine previous performances, will be playing Dorothy. Sixteen-year-old Isamar Arias, who will be making her debut this month, will play the tin man. Some of the cast's youngest members will play the munchkins.
Eight-year-old Nisa Betancourt and 9-year-old Luis Ortiz of the Wallace Primary School wanted to take part in the musical after having enjoyed the movie.
Beyond the curtain
Ohaus and former Principal Frank Spano, with the help of School Board President David Anthony, revived the school's once-obsolete Theater Program in 1997.
During the program's 10 years, sold-out audiences have enjoyed productions of "Fiddler on the Roof," "Once on this Island," "Dreamgirls," "To Kill a Mocking Bird," "On With the Show," "Ragtime," "Oliver!," "Narnia" and "Raisin."
The program has been recognized for its achievements in acting, directing, choreography, and set design by The Paper Mill Playhouse. It has earned over 25 nominations and won nine awards, from Best Actor/Actress to Best Director and Best Overall Musical in New Jersey. Since the fall of 1999, Hoboken High School has been part of the "Adopt a School Program" sponsored by the Paper Mill Playhouse's Educational Department.
The drama program also benefits from the assistance of alumni from Rutgers' Mason Gross School of the Arts, New York University's Tisch School of Performing Arts, and Hoboken's own Stevens Institute of Technology. For future productions at Hoboken High, Ohaus has expressed interest in musicals such as "Chicago," "Rent," and "The Emperor's Clothes."
"The Wiz" will features musical direction by Brenna Sage, lighting design by Mathew Flick, set design by Jennifer Price, costume design by Li-Yun Xu, and choreography by Jared Ramos, a HHS and Princeton graduate who won a Paper Mill award last year for best poster design for the musical "Raisin."
Tickets are $12 for general admission and $6 for students and seniors, and will be available at the high school from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. during the week prior to the show. For more information, call the ticket box at (201) 356-3731.
Michael Mullins can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.